Archive for Thursday, May 7, 2009

Christians too often stand silent

May 7, 2009

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Between 1933 and 1945, as a series of restrictive laws, brutal pogroms and mass deportations culminated in the slaughter of 6 million Jews, the Christian church, with isolated exceptions, watched in silence.

Between 1955 and 1968, as the forces of oppression used terrorist bombings, police violence and kangaroo courts to deny African-Americans their freedom, the Christian church, with isolated exceptions, watched in silence.

Beginning in 1980, as a mysterious and deadly new disease called AIDS began to rage through the homosexual community like an unchecked fire, the Christian church, with isolated exceptions, watched in silence.

So who can be surprised by the new Pew report?

Specifically, it’s from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, and it surveys Americans’ attitudes on the torture of suspected terrorists. Pew found that 49 percent of the nation believes torture is at least sometimes justifiable. Slice that number by religious affiliation, though, and things get interesting. It turns out the religiously unaffiliated are the “least” likely (40 percent) to support torture, but that the more you attend church, the more likely you are to condone it. Among racial/religious groups, white evangelical Protestants were far and away the most likely (62 percent) to support inflicting pain as a tool of interrogation.

You’d think people who claim connection to a higher morality would be the ones most likely to take the lonely, principled stand. But you need only look at history to see how seldom that has been the case, how frequently my people — Christians — acquiesce to expediency and fail to look beyond the immediate. Never mind that looking beyond the immediate pretty much constitutes a Christian’s entire job description.

In the Bible it says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” What we see so often in people of faith, though, is an imperfect love that embraces fear, that lets us live contentedly in our moral comfort zones, doing spiritual busywork and clucking pieties, things that let you feel good, but never require you to put anything at risk, take a leap, make that lonely stand.

Again, there are exceptions, but they prove the rule, which is that in our smug belief that God is on our side, we often fail to ask if we are on His.

So it is often left to a few iconoclasts — Oskar Schindler, the war profiteer who rescued 1,200 Jews in Poland; James Reeb, the Unitarian Universalist minister murdered for African-American voting rights in Alabama; Princess Diana, the British royal who courted international opprobrium for simply touching a person with AIDS in Britain — to do the dangerous and moral thing while the great body of Christendom watches in silence.

Now there is this debate over the morality of torture in which putative people of faith say they can live with a little blood (someone else’s) and a little pain (also someone else’s) if it helps maintain the illusion of security (theirs), and never mind such niceties as guilt or innocence.

Thus it was left to Jon Stewart, the cheerfully irreligious host of “The Daily Show,” to speak last week of the need to be willingly bound by rules of decency and civilization or else be indistinguishable from the terrorists. “I understand the impulse,” he said. “I wanted them to clone bin Laden so that we could kill one a year at half-time at the Super Bowl. ... I understand bloodlust, I understand revenge, I understand all those feelings. I also understand that this country is better than me.”

So there you have it: a statement of principle and higher morality from a late-night comic. That Christians are not lining up to say the same is glaringly ironic in light of what happened to a Middle Eastern man who was arrested by the government, imprisoned and tortured. Eventually he was even executed, though he was innocent of any crime.

His name was Jesus.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. each Wednesday on MiamiHerald.com.

Comments

gr 5 years, 10 months ago

Could it be that most Christians believe God is going to torture and kill people who disagree with Him and so therefore, doing the same against others is nothing short of "being like God"?

Maybe it's a problem with their perception of God.

"Beginning in 1980, as a mysterious and deadly new disease called AIDS began to rage through the homosexual community like an unchecked fire, the Christian church, with isolated exceptions, watched in silence."

Could it be that when Christians did speak up to get people to change their choices of behavior in order to help reduce the spread, they were shouted down?

christy kennedy 5 years, 10 months ago

"Could it be that when Christians did speak up to get people to change their choices of behavior in order to help reduce the spread, they were shouted down?"

Rational and compassionate Christians and nonChristians alike were, and still are, shouted down by Fundamentalist Christians and the Catholic Church. The pope is still at it big time. Denying people the education and resources to minimize the transmission of a deadly disease, among other things, is immoral, unethical, criminal . . . and those who do so in the name of God fit pretty well into a couple of specific personality disorders.

AMom2 5 years, 10 months ago

Nice. "... which is that in our smug belief that God is on our side, we often fail to ask if we are on His." Joshua 5:13-14 (HE is really on neither and the only thing that matters is that we be on HIS side)

I could say more in reply...

denak 5 years, 10 months ago

It is very easy to look at one part of a society and blame it for the failure of the society. It is unfortunately very common but way too simplistic to judge a society (and its failures) by the dominate religion.

People and societies are way to complex to reduce them (it) to one common denominator.

If were were to take out Christian and replace with Democracy would the results be any different. Probably not. THe U.S. wasn't exactly the beacon of hope for Jews during the Holocaust. It enacted quotas that denied thousands the possibility of escape/life. The U.S. ...a democratic society..did the same thing in the 80's when thousands were being slaughtered in Central America and the U.S. continues to enact immigrant quotas today that tear families apart.

No matter how morally reprehensible we, as Christians or as members of a democratic society, think something is we can not always control what our government does nor can a poll adequately show what individuals think or do.

Dena

gogoplata 5 years, 10 months ago

Christians who support torture need to repent and ask God to forgive them. Jesus didn't torture people. Christians shouldn't support their government torturing people.

gogoplata 5 years, 10 months ago

The delivering of justice to convicted criminals in the form of the death penalty is an example. Individuals do not have the right to take a life (extreme self-defense being an exception) - government does.

The big difference here is that a person who is executed by the government goes throught the legal process but the people we torture many times do not. It is bad enough that we sometimes execute the wrong man but at least that is tempered by a trial. The people we torture have very few rights under the current system.

Confrontation 5 years, 10 months ago

Christians like to preach about helping others, yet they continue to prove that they are hypocrites.

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